Democracies and Emergencies

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Elaine Scarry, Walter M. Cabot Professor of Aesthetics and the General Theory of Value at Harvard University, talks about the ways modern democratic governments have undermined democracy by invoking the idea of emergency—they’ve bypassed constitutional provisions concerning presidential succession, the declaration of war, the use of torture, civilian surveillance, and the arrangements for nuclear weapons. In Thinking in an Emergency, Scarry looks at why citizens devalue thinking and ignore checks and balances on government power during emergencies, and offers rigorous, effective ways of thinking in times of crisis.